The discovery of a breeding technique for California condors never before tried by any other zoo should help increase the numbers of the critically endangered species, the Los Angeles Zoo announced Monday.
There are only about 500 California condors left in the world, and the LA Zoo has worked over the last 30 years to refine the process of breeding the birds, with the goal of releasing them back to their native habitat.
The new breeding approach involves allowing adult birds to foster more than one chick at a time, according to Denise Verret, the zoo's interim director.
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"It's resourceful advancements such as this from our dedicated animal care staff that continues to showcase the level of commitment the zoo has to California condor preservation," Verret said. "For over 30 years, we have championed the survival of this species on behalf of our fellow Angelenos, and I look forward to the future of condor conservation as we share this knowledge with our peers."
Once a California condor egg is close to hatching, it has been placed with an experienced foster condor to raise. But if there were more chicks than there are foster condors available, some were hand-raised by staff, although chicks adapt better in the wild when they are raised by condors.
The LA Zoo discovered a new breeding process in 2017 where a foster condor named Anyaopa raised two chicks at once, which led to the chicks being returned to the wild and adapting well to their new surroundings, according to Mike Maxcy, the zoo's curator of birds.
"In 2018 and 2019, our animal care staff used Anyapa's success to replicate the process with more of our foster birds," he said. "Allowing our condor parents to raise two chicks at the same time is a breakthrough that our talented staff has developed to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to reestablish a sustainable population of California condors in the wild. The six chicks born this year will now have a better chance at adapting to the wild when they are older."
The six chicks from the 2019 breeding season are currently being raised at the LA Zoo for the next two years under the care of foster condor parents, with the goal of eventually being returned to the wild.